In Our View: Beyond the Victory

Breast cancer survivors encounter special challenges; help is available

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Eight months ago, a Columbian editorial applauded a Vancouver-based website that provides education and support services for breast-cancer survivors: http://www.pinklemonadeproject.org. The website’s founder is local surgeon Dr. Allen Gabriel.

Now we’re glad to report that several recent developments on the national front indicate awareness is spreading. More Americans — cancer survivors as well as their loved ones and friends — realize that life after breast cancer is anything but a return to normal.

A story last week in USA Today quoted a breast-cancer survivor about her final visit to a specialist: “When I asked my oncologist ‘When do I see you next?’ he said, ‘You don’t.’ He said, ‘Have a nice life.’”

As celebratory as that recollection might sound, it demonstrates the exciting and liberated but difficult journey upon which breast-cancer survivors embark. The USA Today story also reported: “Two-thirds of cancer survivors have trouble sleeping, even two years after treatment. … Up to 30 percent of breast-cancer survivors suffer from persistent fatigue.”

Two weeks prior to that story, a Wall Street Journal article reported: “Although the odds of relapse fall with time, they never completely disappear. … Nearly 90 percent of respondents (in a study of 1,043 breast-cancer patients by the Cancer Support Community) said they had at least one physical, psychological or social problem that was moderate to severe.”

The need for guidance and support is eminently clear. So we again recommend the Pink Lemonade Project website for survivors and family members. Another excellent resource for information about cancer survivors is http://www.myreconstructionrights.org.

The need for education and counseling on this subject is so strong, the American College of Surgeons is planning a noteworthy change for next year. According to the Wall Street Journal article, the organization “plans to make providing survivorship-care plans, as well as distress screening for cancer patients, a criteria for accreditation.”

Scientific knowledge about cancer survivors and their challenges is evolving. Some studies show that cancer treatment affects immune systems. Difficulty sleeping also is widespread among cancer survivors. New drugs are being studied, and some research shows that students in yoga and tai chi classes “were twice as likely as others to say their sleep improved,” USA Today reported.

Cancer survivors have a deep understanding of the thrill of victory in beating the disease. By the same token, however, they also live with the fear that cancer could return, and they battle the apprehension of many other signs that life will never be the way it used to be.

All the more reason to make sure they know help is available.